Dabrafenib is a targeted therapy used to treat melanoma that has spread. It is also called Tafinlar®.
Dabrafenib is a drug called a kinase inhibitor or a cancer growth blocker. It can only be used to treat cancers that have a change in a gene called BRAF. Your doctors will test a piece of tissue taken from previous surgery to find out whether the cancer cells have this change.
Kinases are proteins made by cells. They send important chemical signals to cells telling them when to grow. Cancers that have a change in the BRAF gene make a kinase that tells the cancer cells to grow and divide in an uncontrolled way. Dabrafenib blocks this faulty kinase, and stops the cancer cells from growing and dividing.
When dabrafenib is givenBack to top
Dabrafenib is given to treat melanoma with a BRAF gene change, when the cancer has spread or cannot be removed with surgery. Dabrafenib may also be given as part of a clinical trial to treat melanoma or other types of cancer with a BRAF gene change.
Dabrafenib may not be widely available on the NHS. The organisation that gives advice about new drugs to the NHS in England and Wales is called the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NICE has recommended dabrafenib for treating melanoma with a BRAF gene change, when the cancer has spread or cannot be removed with surgery. The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC), a similar organisation for Scotland, hasn’t made a decision yet.
If you live in Northern Ireland, ask your cancer specialist whether dabrafenib is suitable for you.
We can send you more information on what to do if a treatment isn't available on the NHS. Contact our cancer support specialists free on 0808 808 00 00, Monday–Friday, 9am–8pm. Or you can order information online at be.macmillan.org.uk
Taking your dabrafenib capsules
Dabrafenib is usually taken twice a day, with 12 hours between each dose. Take the capsules on an empty stomach with a glass of water. Don’t eat for two hours before you take dabrafenib, or for one hour after taking it.
If you forget a dose and there are more than six hours until the next dose is due, take it as soon as you remember. If there are less than six hours until the next dose is due, don’t take it. Just take the next dose at the usual time. Never take a double dose to make up for the one you missed.
There are some other important things to remember when taking your capsules:
- Swallow the capsules whole. Don’t chew or crush them.
- Don’t drink grapefruit juice or eat grapefruit while you’re taking dabrafenib.
- Keep the capsules in the original package and at room temperature.
- Keep them safe and out of the reach of children.
- Get a new prescription before you run out of capsules. Make sure you have plenty for holidays.
- Return any remaining capsules to the pharmacist if your treatment is stopped.
Possible side effects of dabrafenibBack to top
We explain the most common side effects of dabrafenib here. But we don’t include all the rare ones that are unlikely to affect you.
You may get some of the side effects we mention but you are very unlikely to get all of them. Always tell your doctor or nurse about the side effects you have. They can prescribe drugs to help control them and give you advice about managing them. Don’t stop taking dabrafenib without talking to your doctor first.
Contact the hospital
Your nurse will give you telephone numbers for the hospital. You can call them if you feel unwell or need advice at any time, day or night. Save these numbers in your phone or keep them somewhere safe.
Fevers and high temperatures
Dabrafenib can cause high temperatures. You might feel hot or cold and shivery, achy or dizzy. This side effect usually starts in the first month of treatment. It’s important to let your doctor or nurse know if this happens. Some people become seriously unwell because of the high temperature.
Contact the hospital straight away if your temperature is:
- 38°C (100.4°F) for more than an hour
- or 38.5°C (101.3°F) or higher.
These temperatures may be different in your hospital’s policy – follow the advice given to you by your specialist doctor.
If your temperature is high, your doctor or nurse may ask you to come to the hospital for a check-up or ask you to stop taking dabrafenib. When your temperature is better, they will tell you if you can start taking dabrafenib again. Sometimes they reduce the dose and/or give you extra medicines, such as paracetamol, to keep your temperature normal.
Soreness and redness of palms of hands and soles of feet
This is called palmar-plantar or hand-foot syndrome. It gets better when treatment ends. Your doctor or nurse may prescribe creams to improve the symptoms. It can help to keep your hands and feet cool and to avoid tight-fitting socks, shoes and gloves.
Feeling sick is a common side effect but it’s usually mild and easy to control. If needed, your doctor will prescribe anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs to help prevent or control sickness. Take the drugs exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explained.
If you have diarrhoea, your doctor can prescribe drugs to control it. Take them exactly as your nurse or pharmacist explained. Make sure you drink at least two litres (three and a half pints) of fluids every day if you have diarrhoea.
Rarely, diarrhoea can be more severe. It’s important to contact the hospital if this happens. If you have more than three episodes of diarrhoea a day, contact the hospital on the telephone numbers you’ve been given and speak to a doctor or nurse.
You may be constipated and have tummy pain. Drinking at least two litres of fluids (three and a half pints) every day will help. Try to eat more foods that contain fibre (such as fruit, vegetables and wholemeal bread) and take some regular gentle exercise.
You may have headaches. If this happens, let your doctor or nurse know. They can give you painkillers.
Muscle and joint pain
You may get pain in your joints or muscles during treatment. Occasionally these can be severe. Tell your doctor if this happens so they can prescribe painkillers. Let them know if the pain does not get better. They can usually increase or change your painkillers to help.
Feeling very tired is a common side effect. Try to pace yourself and get as much rest as you need. It helps to balance this with taking some gentle exercise, such as short walks. If you feel sleepy, don’t drive or operate machinery.
Your hair may thin but you’re unlikely to lose all the hair from your head. It is almost always temporary, and your hair will grow back after treatment ends. Your nurse can give you advice about coping with hair loss.
You may have a cough. Let your doctor know if this happens. They can prescribe medicine to help.
Some mild skin changes are common. They include a rash, redness, itching, dry, rough or scaly skin, or small wart-like growths. Tell your nurse or doctor if you have any of these changes. They can give you advice, and may prescribe creams or medicines to help.
Less common side effects of dabrafenibBack to top
Sometimes people taking dabrafenib may develop other types of skin cancer, such as squamous cell and, less commonly, basal cell skin cancer. Usually, these are easily removed with surgery. You’ll be asked to check your skin regularly for signs of these cancers, such as a small lump or an area that looks scaly, bleeds or has a hard cap. Your nurse or doctor will tell you what to look for and will check your skin. If you notice anything unusual between appointments, let your nurse or doctor know.
Rarely, a new melanoma or non-skin cancer can develop. But the benefits of treatment usually far outweigh this risk. Your doctor can talk to you about this.
Changes in the way the heart works
Dabrafenib can affect the way the heart works. This is usually temporary. You may have tests to see how well your heart is working before, during and after treatment.
Tell a doctor straight away if you have pain or tightness in your chest, feel breathless or notice changes to your heartbeat at any time during or after treatment. These symptoms can be caused by other conditions, but it’s important to get them checked by a doctor.
Raised blood sugar levels
Dabrafenib may raise your blood sugar levels. Symptoms of raised blood sugar include feeling thirsty, needing to pass urine more often and feeling tired. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have these symptoms.
If you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels may be higher than usual. Your doctor will talk to you about how to manage this. You may need to change your insulin or tablet dose.
Side effects can usually be controlled or improved. Always let your doctor or nurse know about any side effects you have so they can help you feel better.
Other information about dabrafenibBack to top
Dabrafenib may interact with many drugs. This includes some heart tablets, blood thinners and epilepsy tablets. Medicines you can buy in a shop or chemist, such as St John’s Wort or medicines that reduce stomach acid, may also be harmful.
Tell your doctor about any medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter drugs, complementary therapies and herbal drugs.
It’s not known whether dabrafenib affects your fertility (being able to get pregnant or father a child). If you are worried about this, you can talk to your doctor or nurse before treatment starts.
Your doctor will advise you not to become pregnant or to father a child during treatment. This is because dabrafenib may harm a developing baby.
It’s important to use effective contraception during, and for a few months after treatment. Dabrafenib will make contraceptive pills, injections or patches less effective. You need to use a condom or other barrier contraceptive. You can talk to your doctor or nurse about this.
If you have sex while you are having treatment, you need to use a condom. This is to protect your partner in case there is any dabrafenib in semen or vaginal fluid.
Women are advised not to breastfeed during treatment and for a few months after. This is in case there is dabrafenib in their breast milk.
Medical and dental treatment
If you need to go into hospital for any reason other than cancer, always tell the doctors and nurses that you are taking dabrafenib. Give them contact details for your cancer doctor.
Talk to your cancer doctor or nurse if you think you need dental treatment. Always tell your dentist you are having dabrafenib.
This page has been compiled using information from a number of reliable sources, including the electronic Medicines Compendium (www.medicines.org.uk). If you’d like further information on the sources we use, please feel free to contact us.
This information was reviewed by a medical professional. Thank you to all of the people affected by cancer who reviewed what you're reading and have helped our information to develop.
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